Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire Edition

Matt Yglesias - Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire EditionMatthew Yglesias wrote a very good article last week, Maybe Voters Aren’t as Uninformed as Elites like to Think. It’s based on an upcoming article by Vanessa Williamson, “Public Ignorance or Elitist Jargon? Reconsidering Americans’ Overestimates of Government Waste and Foreign Aid.” And it makes an argument for an idea that a lot of us have been thinking for a long time.

The idea is that when pollsters ask Americans questions about what the government spends on various programs, the people asking the questions have different definitions than the people answering them. The best example of this is the question, “What percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid?” The “correct answer is 1 percent or less. But Americans give much bigger numbers. They’ll say 25 percent — even 50 percent.

Foreign Aid or American Empire Maintenance?

But what is “foreign aid”? Americans believe more of their government’s propaganda than the citizens of any other peer country. Despite all the nonsense about fake news, Americans except just about everything the media and the government say. That’s especially true when it comes to foreign affairs. Like my 85-year-old father would never believe that we go to war for any reason but to spread democracy and make people free.

Now if that were true, our entire military budget should be considered foreign aid. As of 2015, the military took 16 percent of the entire federal budget. And if you don’t count Social Security and Medicare (and I don’t think you should given they are totally different programs based on their own particular tax receipts), the military is 35% of the Federal budget.

Americans Believe Government Propaganda

So the problem isn’t that Americans are wrong about how much we spend on foreign aid. The problem is that Americans believe our government propaganda that our military is just to take care of the world. You know, the whole “World’s police force”?

The United States spends approximately as much on its military as every other country in the world combined does. We have this huge military so we can keep our worldwide empire going. And that empire involves about half the countries in the world.

But the media doesn’t report our military as the main instrument of our empire. In fact, the American media won’t even admit that we do have an empire.

The New Kind of Empire

This is very much like the old line about generals always fighting the last war. Since the American empire doesn’t look like the empires of a century ago when the lead country put its own people in charge of the other countries, we can’t be an empire.

But we accomplish the same thing, just in a different way. Even the British got in on the act at the end of their empire days. In the early 1950s, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was going to nationalize the oil industry. So the US and UK had him assassinated. The Shah was put back in power, and Democracy was outlawed. But it wasn’t a matter of Eisenhower and Churchill putting in one of their men. They just used the old despot who would do whatever they wanted. This is how modern empires work.

Americans Don’t Believe We Have an Empire

But tell me: have you ever heard anyone in the mainstream media — even liberals — talk about the American empire? Of course not. They are as brainwashed as my father is.

So you can’t go around deceiving people about what our military does, and then laugh at the people for believing you. The US government is dependent on the people believing this fairy tale. So all the people who run our great death machine should praise the people for saying that 35 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Don’t you remember the Iraq War? That was to help all those people. We didn’t spend $2+ trillion on ourselves. It was all to aid the Iraqis. It was foreign aid.

3 replies on “Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire Edition”

  1. James Fillmore says:

    Excellent as usual. One correction; we didn’t have Mossadegh assassinated, merely illegally removed from office. He died under house arrest more than a decade later. But the point of the article isn’t changed by that difference.

    Our citizenry believing that military adventures serve the world is just as bananas as our citizenry believing these adventures serve America. Of course, denying Iran self-government has been disastrous for them and disastrous for us. But It benefited the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP), which was always the point.

    I was talking with the better half today about how Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et.al. believed they could turn Iraq into a free-market paradise. She wondered “they couldn’t really have believed that.” I suspect the truth was somewhere in between. The ideal was free-market paradise. But cheap oil (for producers, not consumers!) was an acceptable fallback outcome. Sure, it’d be wonderful if we could benefit millions of lives and help our masters make money, too. If we kill millions and still make our masters money, that’s good enough.

  2. Lawrence says:

    Even the idea of military aid is misunderstood. It is not a cash transfer to, say, Panama. But rather a payment to an American contractor like DynCorp who then supplies helicopters to Panama.

    • James Fillmore says:

      I didn’t know that. I always assumed the money went to whatever company made the hardware. So, it goes to a company that buys the hardware from another company and takes a nice hefty fee for delivering it. Wonderful. Kleptocracy at work.

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